TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly touted the arrests of about 20 people he said registered and voted illegally in 2020. But months later, at least two of the people arrested are still on Florida’s voter rolls.
Nathaniel Singleton, who is ineligible to vote because of a second-degree murder conviction, was issued a new voter ID card by Broward County’s elections supervisor on Sept. 13, nearly a month after DeSantis held a high-profile news conference touting his arrest.
And Romona Oliver, also ineligible because of a second-degree murder conviction, is still on the rolls, a fact that went unnoticed by DeSantis’ administration even though it arrested her nearly three months after she registered.
On the eve of Election Day, both are still registered voters — further evidence, observers say, of dysfunction within DeSantis’ Department of State, which is responsible under state law for finding and removing ineligible voters from the rolls.
“The left hand isn’t talking to the right hand,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. “This has become par for the course for the secretary of state’s office.”
The August arrests were touted as the first major initiative of the state’s new Office of Election Crimes and Security, an office that DeSantis pushed for during the 2022 legislative session. All those arrested were ineligible because they had prior convictions for murder or felony sex offenses.
To break the law, the voters had to “willfully” vote when they weren’t eligible. But many of them have said they thought they were eligible, since they were issued voter ID cards after being cleared by the Department of State. Videos of some of their arrests captured their confusion.
In the case of Singleton, it isn’t clear how he was issued another voter ID card.
Singleton’s attorney, Adam Goodman, said his client did not register to vote again after his arrest. After his arrest, Singleton, 77, told CBS4 that he didn’t know he was ineligible to vote.
“If I was trying to vote illegally, I would have never gone to the Supervisor of Election’s office,” Singleton said in September.
But Broward County Supervisor of Elections spokesperson Ivan Castro said it looked like Singleton did re-register, although he could not immediately provide the registration paperwork. Castro said Singleton was issued a new voter ID card on Sept. 13. (Broward County’s website says he registered June 30.)
When asked for more information about how he was allowed to register again, Castro said, “Your questions are best answered by the secretary of state.”
If Singleton registered again, it would likely subject him to another third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
In Oliver’s case, the state was apparently unaware she was on the rolls.
Oliver, 56, under her maiden name Romona Brown, was removed from the rolls in March, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections spokesperson Gerri Kramer said. On May 24, she registered again under “Oliver,” her married name, Kramer said. That was the same day she updated her driver’s license with her married name, her arrest affidavit states.
“That registration was verified by the Department of State,” Kramer said in a statement.
Agents with DeSantis’ Office of Election Crimes and Security were aware of her name change, since they charged her as Romona Oliver. But they were apparently unaware she was still on the rolls, since she was only charged with registering to vote once, in February 2020.
It wasn’t until late October, when a reporter notified Hillsborough County’s supervisor, that they realized Oliver was still on the rolls, Kramer said. They notified state police and began the process to remove her. On Oct. 25, the Department of State notified the county that Oliver was ineligible.
On Oct. 26, the county sent Oliver a notice that she was ineligible to vote, Kramer said.
“Romona Oliver will be removed from the voter roll once the requisite time has passed, in accordance with (state law),” Kramer said.
Oliver’s attorney, Mark Rankin, said she registered multiple times because she got married and had a name change and an address change.
“I am not aware of her receiving any notification of being removed from the voter rolls,” Rankin said in a text message. “First she heard of any issues was the day she was arrested.”
Florida’s system for determining voter eligibility has become an “administrative nightmare,” in the words of one federal judge, since voters passed Amendment 4 in 2018.
The amendment removed Florida’s lifetime ban on felon voting, but it did not apply to people with murders or felony sex offenses on their records or for anyone who hadn’t completed “all terms” of their sentence, including probation or parole and any outstanding financial obligations.
Prior to Amendment 4, the Department of State simply had to check whether someone had a felony on their record. Now it has to check the type of felony, whether the person is still on probation, and whether they still owe court fees, criminal fines or restitution to victims — information that is often difficult or impossible to determine.
The previous secretary of state, Laurel Lee, asked to hire more people to help remove ineligible voters, but DeSantis didn’t comply with the requests until this year, when $1 million and 15 new positions were assigned.
The current secretary of state, former state Rep. Cord Byrd, has argued that potential voters themselves are responsible for determining if they can vote.
About a week after the August arrests, the Department of Corrections issued an updated form for everyone on probation to sign attesting “that you must solely determine if you are lawfully qualified to vote.”
“There seems to be a persistent and complete misunderstanding of the Department’s verification process and the statutory procedures for adding voters to the registration rolls,” department spokesperson Mark Ard said.
When someone registers to vote, they have to check a box indicating under penalty of perjury that they are not a convicted felon, “or if I am, my right to vote has been restored.”
If they check the box, the department verifies the authenticity of the person’s driver’s license number, Florida ID card number or the last four digits of the Social Security number. If it checks out, the person joins the rolls, Ard said.
After that, the department, based on Florida law, then moves to see if the person is eligible, including “daily” checks against other government databases, Ard said. However, the process can take years — many of those arrested remained on the rolls for up to three years.
“Should Floridians wish to see this process changed, they should contact their legislative representative to change the current statutes,” Ard said.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a voting rights group that led the Amendment 4 effort, has said the arrests are evidence of a “broken system.”
“This just screams for immediate reform after the election,” Neil Volz, the coalition’s deputy director, said of Singleton being issued a new voter ID card. “Our elections are worth it, the people of Florida are worth it.”